A Shifting Strategy on Foreign Policy ; Eisenhower's Approach Could Be Obama's Model to Follow in His 2nd Term

By Sanger, David E | International Herald Tribune, January 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

A Shifting Strategy on Foreign Policy ; Eisenhower's Approach Could Be Obama's Model to Follow in His 2nd Term


Sanger, David E, International Herald Tribune


After pursuing a broad projection of American power in his first four years -- and facing some obstacles -- President Barack Obama is expected to push smaller diplomatic initiatives in the next four.

Not quite nine months into his presidency, Barack Obama woke to the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize -- not for anything yet accomplished, but for the promise that he would end the Iraq war, win the "war of necessity" in Afghanistan, move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, tackle climate change and engage America's adversaries.

Yet beyond Iraq, his first-term accomplishments from that list are sparse. In a fractured world, Mr. Obama struggled to define a grand strategy for the United States' role, apart from preserving its pre-eminence while relying increasingly on a changing cast of partners.

As Mr. Obama begins his second term -- he was sworn in quietly on Sunday, the constitutionally mandated date, in advance of the public ceremony on Monday -- aides and confidants say he is acutely aware that his ambitious agenda to restore the country's influence and image in the world stalled almost as soon as the prize was awarded. But the president has indicated that he plans to return to his original agenda, though he has hinted it may be in a different, less overtly ambitious way.

Bitter experience -- from getting the most modest arms control agreement through the Senate his first year, trying and failing to engage leaders in Iran and North Korea, discovering his lack of leverage over Egypt, Pakistan and Israel, and finding Afghanistan to be a costly waste of U.S. lives and resources -- is driving him to a strategy reminiscent of one of his Republican predecessors as president: Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It is a strategy in which Mr. Obama will try to redirect world events subtly, rather than turning to big treaties, big military interventions and big aid packages.

"The appeal of the Eisenhower approach is that it had a big element of turning inward, of looking to rebuilding strength at home, of conserving American power," said one of Mr. Obama's senior national security advisers, who would not agree to be quoted by name. "But there's also the reality that some of the initiatives that seemed so hopeful four years ago -- whether it's driving down the number of nuclear weapons or helping Afghanistan remake itself - - look so much harder now."

Whether this approach can work is very much an open question. His early forays into covert action and lightning-quick strikes -- like the fast war in Libya or the cyberwar against Iran -- have set back adversaries, but the satisfactions of striking with a "light footprint" have usually been temporary at best.

His promises of transformative change are now viewed around the world with more suspicion. There was the student in Cairo who cornered a reporter a year ago and demanded to know why the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was still open, and the European foreign minister who, at a diplomatic dinner in Washington, asked whether "the pivot to Asia is another phrase for ignoring the rest of the world."

Mr. Obama's questions during Situation Room sessions, some of his current and former aides say, seem to reflect a concern that his first term was spent putting out fires, rather than building lasting institutions.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman solidified the United States' post-World War II role by helping create the United Nations, the international financial institutions and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe; President John F. Kennedy emerged from the Cuban Missile Crisis with treaties limiting the spread of nuclear weapons; President George H.W. Bush lured new allies from the ruins of the Soviet Union.

By comparison, Mr. Obama's biggest accomplishments have been largely defensive: a full withdrawal from Iraq and devastating strikes against the core leadership of Al Qaeda. …

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